Monday, January 27, 2014

The Place Beyond the Pines

Directed by Derek Cianfrance.
2013. Rated R, 140 minutes.
Ryan Gosling
Bradley Cooper
Eva Mendes
Ray Liotta
Dane DeHaan
Emory Cohen
Rose Byrne
Ben Mendelsohn
Mahershala Ali
Bruce Greenwood
Gabe Fazio
Olga Merediz

Luke Glanton (Gosling) is a stunt motorcycle rider in a traveling carnival. When he finds out he has an infant son in one of the sleepy towns he breezes through, he quits his job and settles down there. Things are complicated because the child’s mother, Romina (Mendes) has moved on. She’s living with another man and doesn’t really want Luke’s help with the kid. Being the caring guy he is, Luke wants desperately to provide for his boy and at least give it a go with Romina. At the encouragement of his buddy Robin (Mendelsohn), he takes up robbing banks. And I’ll just leave it at that.

Narratively, this is a movie split into two equal halves. The second half deals with police officer Avery Cross (Cooper). I won’t say much more about him to keep from spoiling things. I will share that this part of the movie flows directly from the first half. Both parts are just gut wrenching. This is possibly the most emotional crime-drama in a decade. All of thoses feelings are stirred by the fact that the film focuses intently on father/son relationships and/or the effects of not having a good one. For us dads, this is like a horror flick.

To assist in pulling our heart strings, we get some excellent work out of our cast. Ryan Gosling continues to blow me away as I just feel so bad for Luke. Gosling makes it a very hard thing to watch a man with good intentions go down such a dark path. Bradley Cooper is just as good, but for different reasons. We love him early on when he is clearly a guy who wants to do the right thing. We admire his courage to go against the grain. As things progress, we see Cross is a man of ambition. That ambition does not lead him astray, but it obscures the most important things. This is when we start to dislike him.

Two more who makes us hurt for them are Dane DeHaan as Jason and Eva Mendes as Romina. We see how not having certain things has made Jason’s life difficult. At the very least, we sense that he feels incomplete, often powerless. It’s not terribly different from his role in the surprisingly good Chronicle, but once again he pulls it off very nicely. Mendes brings a depth she’s never before shown. However much we agree or disagree with her actions, we know she thinks she is doing what is right. In a nod to subtlety, her best moments are the ones in which she’s asked a direct question and says nothing.

In smaller roles, Ray Liotta, and Ben Mendelsohn also shine. Liotta has a delightfully nasty turn as one of Cross’ fellow officers. He brings his GoodFellas sensibilities to the proceedings and it works perfectly. As Robin, Medelsohn is not only Luke’s buddy, but something of a mentor. He gives us a perfect local yokel who seems to lighten the mood whenever he’s on the screen. In reality, he is stirring things up and is responsible for a couple turns of the plot.

Most intriguing, and mysterious, of all the supporting players is Romina’s guy, Kofi, played by Mahershala Ali. What we see of him works wonderfully. Like many guys, he measures his actions against what his lady thinks. He may even stop to ask how she feels about a situation, just to be sure, before he acts. Early, he seems to have a bit of an attitude problem, but it comes with good reason. Later, he is revealed to be a genuine and caring man. The one drawback here is on has to wonder if he knows everything we know.

In truth, the relationship between Kofi and Romina is not a focal point of the film and probably should not be. It is just a place where expansion is possible. That said, the rest of the movie is thorough in its exploration of subjects it has chosen. Therefore, expansion is not really necessary. The Place Beyond the Pines works marvelously as a multiple character study and does not let any of them off the hook. When it ends, we have much to try and wrap our heads around. Not least of these things is trying to figure out what will happen next to these people.


  1. Good review Wendell. It's definitely dramatic and has more than a few really emotional scenes, but once it goes on and on, things began to get a bit unbelievable. Especially during that last story, which seemed a bit too contrived for my tastes.

    1. I can see that. I guess my focus was more on the father/son relationship aspect of things and how that affected and caused what happened rather than what literally happened. Thanks!